Professor Chinua Achebe was heavily involved in the Biafran project during the ill fated Nigerian Civil War. He resigned his plum job as a broadcaster in Lagos and headed to the East to be part of the Biafran propaganda machine where he sold Biafra to the rest of the world in collaboration with Senator Uche Chukwumerije and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s first son, Chukwuma Azikiwe.
He didn’t write his next novel ‘Anthills of the Savannah’ a Booker Prize shortlist till 1987, 21 years after his last one. In the political satire, the protagonist Sam who was the Military Head of State vehemently refused to visit Abazon which was plagued by a drought. This led him in a collision course with his friend, Ikem Osodi who was the Editor of the government owned National Gazette who was from there and criticized His Excellency’s decision not to go there despite the pleas of the people.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s first speech as President in 2015 was that those that gave him five percent of the votes shouldn’t expect equal treatment with the others. This statement was rather unfortunate as it was highly divisive and unbecoming of a supposed national leader. His appointments also greatly shortchanged the south east as none of them was found worthy of any sensitive position despite their brilliance and qualifications.
Separatist agitations by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu went to an all time high and anti Nigerian sentiments were rife. Kanu returned from the United Kingdom to the country where he was running Radio Biafra and became an instant hero as his message resonated greatly with the masses who felt greatly shortchanged by the Buhari led administration.
Rather than look for diplomatic ways to quell the fire lit by IPOB in a similar way that Olusegun Obasanjo did to the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Ralph Uwazurike, Buhari used strong arm tactics in clamping Kanu into detention for treasonable felony. Tempers further rose when he was denied bail despite numerous court orders. When finally he went home, his parents’ home in Abia State was viciously attacked which led to Kanu fleeing into exile for his dear life. Then came the proscription of IPOB and its designation as a terrorist organization despite its non attacks on the Nigerian State. This was rather hypocritical considering the fact that Boko Haram and the Fulani Herdsmen as well as ISWAP whose activities include killing, maiming and abductions weren’t also designated as terrorist organizations by the Federal Government.
Then came Operation Python Dance which saw the mass movement of military personnel into the South East and the setting up of numerous check points all over the region. The chaos caused by the military that made life hell for the residents is the remote cause of the current crisis where public buildings are burnt and vandalization of government owned buildings there especially police stations and INEC offices.
Buhari then made a monumental PR gaffe on the now suspended Twitter when he tweeted that he would deal with the Igbos in the language they understand in reference to the Nigerian Civil War where he fought on the Nigerian side as a then young military officer. Twitter of course took down the tweet which led to the retaliatory move by the government in suspending it and refusing to lift the suspension despite the taking down of Nnamdi Kanu’s tweets by the micro blogging platform at the request of the Federal Government who found them utterly offensive.
In his presidential interview with Arise Television on June 10, President Buhari described IPOB and the entire Igboland as a ‘dot in a circle’ which led to public outcry not only by the Igbos but also by their sympathizers from all over the country and globe. No word of apology has been offered by Buhari up till now for that linguistic disparaging of an entire tribe.
Law Mefor, a prominent Igbo leader had this to say about Buhari’s unkind statement: “President Buhari’s statement that the Igbo (whom he referred to as Indigenous People of Biafra are ‘a dot in the circle’ is an unfortunate manifestation of his insatiable desire, genocidal intent and ethnic cleansing of the Igbo Biafrans.”
He said the ongoing militarisation of the entire Igboland and the launch of operation restore peace in both South South and South East is a recipe for his commencement of that genocide and crimes against humanity which he alleged could not complete between 1967 and 1970.
“This is also reminiscent of the description by Leon Mugesera of the Tutsis in Rwanda as ‘cockroaches’ that must be exterminated in the build up to the horrific genocide in that country in 1994.
“This existential threat which Buhari represents to the entire population is not only for the Igbo in South East but everybody in the South South and should be ignored to the consternation and chagrin of all.
“That is why it is not going to be taken for granted. Hence, self-preservation which is the greatest unconscious and innate human response to danger remains the safest fallback for the population of both the South East and South South.”
The reason why Rwanda is arguably the fastest growing economy in Africa is because Paul Kagame, a Tutsi united his nation after the 1994 genocide and made them think about Rwanda first before their tribe. Today, the country is making giant strides in technology, healthcare, education and many facets of life having put the killings behind them.
Buhari ought to act like an elder statesman and not some tribal jingoist in order to unite the country and douse the secessionist agitations that are gaining sturdy grounds by the day. Is it not a gargantuan shame that Professor Banji Akintoye and Sunday Adeyemo a.k.a Sunday Igboho are leading the campaign for the emergence of the Oduduwa nation despite the fact that his Vice President is a Yoruba man?
He has obdurately rejected calls for restructuring which will lead to a better deal for the South East opining that the advocates for it should take their case to the National Assembly which is dominated by the conservative north who are the largest beneficiaries of the current lopsided structure and are naturally opposed to change as no one in his or her right senses will cut their nose in order to spite their faces.
The tension as a result of this current unitary structure is too much and Buhari should assuage the balm rather than stoke the fires. One of the greatest Igbo leaders, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe sacrificed his Prime Ministerial ambition in 1959 because of his belief in one Nigeria as his ambition would have caused a lot of ethnic tension at the time. Is this the way to repay his tribe back?
Buhari still has less than two years left to ensure restructuring and devolution of powers for a genuine federal structure to emerge and operate. This will in no miniscule measure douse the current separatist agitations and reduce the ethnic tensions in the country.
History would be unkind to him if he doesn’t allow restructuring to occur.
Tony Ademiluyi is the Co Founder of The Vent Republic – www.theventrepublic.com and wrote in from Lagos. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org